Always return what you filch, and don't gawk at the secretary


February 18, 1994|By Dan Rodricks

On the chance you haven't seen it, that Mark Downs billboard along the Jones Falls Expressway -- the one that says, "Welcome to Bawlmer, HON!" to introduce the HON Inc. line of office furniture -- includes a large rendering of what appears to be a beehived secretary lounging in an executive throne, legs crossed, steno pad in hand. I think the word for the overall image of the secretary is "ditzy." But I only say that after taking a second and closer look at the billboard. And I only took the second look after two women brought what they considered the billboard's sexist sentiment to my attention. Here's what they said:

"Who cares about a clever play on words when it's accompanied by an offensive image of some stereotypical secretary-type lady looking a tad too seductive in her Mark Downs chair? Forgive me if I'm wrong (my eyesight is shot), but that's what it looks like to me at 60 mph."

"Just when it seems like secretaries are finally making progress in getting taken seriously, there's that stereotype. Secretaries have to be word-processing whizzes who still make half what male 'administrative assistants' make for the same work, and they still get harassed, even with creeps like [Sen. Bob] Packwood making the news."

The women have a point, if not a sense of humor, about this. I find it endlessly interesting (and frequently surprising) to hear how different people react to how they -- in this case, working women -- are depicted in pop and commercial culture, and in the media. (Remember how local Italian-Americans reacted to a billboard that included an Al Capone blowup a few years ago?) Eastern Outdoor Advertising furnished a photograph of the Mark Downs billboard, and I showed it yesterday to two women -- one a secretary, the other an office manager -- and neither of them was offended by it. One laughed. That makes the

score 2-2. (A man who heard the com plaints about the billboard responded by declaring as equally sexist the new Diet Coke TV commercial in which women gawk at a guy taking off his shirt.) Take a look at the Mark Downs billboard and let me know what you think. This ought to be interesting.

The welcome bandwagon

I hope those who feel the Mark Downs billboard is demeaning to women will be able to separate the artwork from the words, "Welcome to Bawlmer, hon." Some version of that phrase is what we hope to see placed permanently on the median strip of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. I've received more phone calls about this proposal than on any other issue in 15 years of writing a column. And only two calls have been negative. (The overwhelming majority of callers are women.) Ken Jackson asked for votes on the proposal on his radio show on WWLG-AM (1360) Wednesday morning and he received all thumbs-up.

Now write a check, Vic

The Maryland Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society mailed letters recently soliciting contributions. The one Victor Sulin, state delegate from Glen Burnie, received at the Lowe House Office Building in Annapolis was addressed, "His Eminence Victor A. Sulin" and began, "Dear Your Eminence." Congratulations to Vic on his elevation.

Hon again

As evidence that usage of "hon" is still common aroun Baltimore, I offer this: Yesterday, lunch hour, Olympia Pizzeria, Lutherville. Two burly lads order sandwiches at counter and ask if they can have separate checks. Counter worker says, "We can do that for you, hon."

For the record

Regarding Kweisi Mfume's letter to the editor in last Sunday's Perspective section of The Sun, I'd also like to set the record straight. Despite what the 7th District congressman stated, I never labeled him a "defiler of the cage." That phrase, which I did not compose, appeared in the headline over my Jan. 31 column and referred to an item completely separate from the one in which I addressed Mfume's reaction to the Khalid Muhammad


Scrutiny from on high

If you visit the Maryland Penitentiary -- as Princeton professor and author Cornel West did the other day -- and you enter through the hospital entrance (along Madison Street), be prepared for interesting security procedures. You drop your identification into a bucket. A guard stationed 15 feet above you pulls the bucket up, inspects the ID, then lowers the bucket and returns your ID. This procedure dates to the time of Henry V. Some things simply cannot be improved upon.

Snip, snip

Here's a deal -- and a great scene. Lodge 2392 of the Sons of Italy -- that's the barber and hairstylist lodge -- is having a Cut-A-Thon at Si Avara's International Academy of Hair Design in Dundalk, Sunday afternoon, March 6. Five bucks for a haircut, $10 for a styling (that's a cut with a shampoo), and the proceeds go to the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation, which raises money for programs and services for abused children. All pro stylists, no students. Thirty chairs, no waiting.

The return of the gloves

After holding them for nearly two weeks, the cheeky woman wh took my red gloves after I left them in Long John's Pub finally returned them in a brown envelope. She wrote a poem on the envelope. I'd share it with you but . . . (Gee, look, I just ran out of space.)

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